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Lethargic Vikings Fail to Start Fast With Plenty At Stake

MINNEAPOLIS — There was a laundry list of reasons why Sunday's game was important to the Vikings.

Minnesota entered Week 16 in the final NFC playoff spot but knew it needed to win to keep pace in the postseason race.

The Los Angeles Rams — one of the league's highest-profile teams — were in town and looking to clinch a playoff spot.

And the Vikings were at U.S. Bank Stadium with a chance defend their home and finally get above .500 for the first time this season, and for the first time in nearly two full years.

With team leader Dalvin Cook on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and away from the team, someone else would need to lead the pregame speech.

Enter Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who delivered an animated and passionate monologue about 30 minutes before kickoff.

"He just told us we've got to bring our own energy, because it didn't feel like — it felt like it was a little dead inside here today," linebacker Anthony Barr said of the pregame mood. "It's usually got a nice buzz, and for some reason, it wasn't like that.

"I'm not saying that's why we lost," Barr added. "I'm just saying that I think that's why he came in there and was letting us know we had to play with a little more energy and find our own energy today."

Zimmer wasn't the only one who noticed something was amiss before kickoff.

Justin Jefferson sensed it as soon as he got to the Vikings locker room to get dressed.

"I felt it as soon as I came into the locker room," Jefferson said. "I was trying to pick up the guys and everything.

"But [we] still came out slow, still didn't come out with that energy that we needed to, especially with this type of team [across from us]," Jefferson added.

Minnesota laid a dud in the opening quarter in an eventual 30-23 loss.

The Vikings offense took the ball first and promptly went three-and-out, gaining a single yard on a third-and-3 pass attempt that was short of the sticks.

The Vikings defense then allowed the Rams to march down the field for an opening-drive score, missing chances to make a key stop along the way.

First, Cameron Dantzler dropped an interception from an inaccurate Matthew Stafford in the secondary.

Then, after a successful Zimmer challenge erased a Rams third-down conversion, Los Angeles faced fourth-and-1 at its own 49-yard line.

A stop could have given the Vikings the ball near midfield and really brought U.S. Bank Stadium to life.

Instead, Stafford converted on a sneak, despite bobbling the snap. A half-dozen plays later, the Rams had a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

View game action photos between the Vikings and Rams during the Week 16 matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Minnesota responded with a lengthy drive of its own, but Kirk Cousins was intercepted in the end zone, missing a chance to tie the game.

The Vikings quarterback explained after the game what he had hoped his team would look like in the opening stanza.

"We're playing a division leader at home," Cousins said. "I think you've just got to bring your own energy by making plays. We just have to find ways to start fast and create that energy."

The Vikings didn't do it, getting down 7-0 after the first quarter (and 13-3 at the half), forcing Minnesota to play catchup against one of the league's top teams.

The end result was another one-score loss for the Vikings. It was the 12th straight game decided by one possession for Minnesota.

But this one didn't feel as close as the final score indicated, mostly because of the lethargic start.

The Vikings dropped to 7-8 on the season, failing to get above .500 for the fourth different time in 2021.

A puzzled Jefferson tried to find the words for why the Vikings haven't had a winning record since he was drafted.

"I have no idea. We got to get over that hump," Jefferson said. "It's definitely tough in this league, winning games and just being in a dogfight every single week.

"But we got to find a way, we got to find a way to push through and get [wins]," Jefferson added. "We just got to find a way to get over that .500."

After the game, which knocked Minnesota out of the NFC playoff picture, Zimmer called it "a disappointing loss."

Barr tried to manage the loss with some humor.

"Christmas hangover," Barr quipped. "I don't know what y'all did last night. Too much fun, I guess."

The Vikings aren't mathematically eliminated, but could be next weekend if they lose and the Eagles win.

Jefferson was asked how the Vikings could avoid a repeat lackluster start.

"Well, don't come out with lack of energy, just knowing what's at stake," Jefferson said.

He later summed up the mindset of the team with two games left … as the Vikings playoff hopes dangle by a thread.

"It's not totally over yet," Jefferson said. "We've got some juice left, but we've just got to go win these two games, be aggressive, be emotionally into it and just be mentally prepared to go in there and fight our butt off."